MIRS-Michigan Independent Source Of News and Information
Friday Nov 6, 2015
Maxwell LORINCZ, of Spring Lake, says a fingerprint of oil on an empty plastic container led to his arrest on a drug charge on Sept. 24, 2014. Now, a year later, the case that might have started with a fingerprint has spurred a defense attorney to question the state’s protocol for handling some marijuana-related crimes. The attorney is also alleging that the current system allows some cases to incorrectly be heightened to felonies when they should be misdemeanors.
Lorincz says that because of what happened to him, the lives of he and his wife have been destroyed and his 6-year-old son has been in foster care for a year.
“There couldn’t have been a more terrible thing to happen in my life,” Lorincz said in an interview this week.
Lorincz’s attorney is Michael KOMORN, who specializes in medical marijuana cases. Through investigating Lorincz’s case, Komorn has called in laboratory experts and obtained internal Michigan State Police (MSP) emails between laboratory workers and an employee of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM).
The debate focuses on THC, the chemical responsible for many of marijuana’s psychological effects.
The documents show an internal debate between MSP employees about how cases involving THC extracts that contain no visible marijuana plant matter should be handled. And they show a PAAM employee providing guidance to MSP workers on the subject.
The findings, Lorincz’s legal team alleges, show that law enforcement authorities have made a concerted effort to “bend the science.”
The way the science has been bent, the team says, allows THC oils or solids where no plant matter is visible to be considered synthetic, meaning they could bring a felony charge under Michigan law.
Normally, if the THC clearly came from a plant, it would bring a misdemeanor charge.
The allegation is that in some instances where law enforcement isn’t certain whether the THC came from a plant, authorities have been able to use the MSP protocol, which some outside forces had input on, to go ahead and pursue the synthetic felony crime. That’s what Komorn says happened to Lorincz.
But both the MSP and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) deny any concerted effort to heighten criminal penalties has taken place.
Shanon BANNER, spokesperson for MSP, said in a statement that the department “wholly refutes” the claims being made by Komorn.
“Turning an internal debate among colleagues into a multi-level conspiracy is a diversionary tactic used to distract from the facts of the case,” Banner said. “The bottom line is the professionals of MSP-FSD (Forensic Science Division) would never allow politics to trump science.”
Some medical marijuana users prefer to consume marijuana in oil form or in solid foods, involving THC extracts. However, the items aren’t considered usable drugs under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
The question that Komorn is focused on is how the MSP crime lab and prosecutors decide whether the THC in those forms is synthetic or from a plant.
In some cases, no plant matter is visible, and, according to emails obtained by Komorn, there’s been a disagreement among MSP lab workers about how to define the drugs in reports in those instances.
In an October court filing, Kormon pointed to an email from Ken STECKER, an employee of PAAM. Stecker advised MSP workers, “That in my opinion, THC is a schedule 1 drug regardless of where it comes from.”
However, one MSP worker, Bradley CHOATE, wrote in 2014 that simply saying that THC was found “without any other statement” would lead a prosecutor to the synthetic portion of state law because that’s the place where THC is listed in state law.
“This could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual,” Choate wrote. “For the laboratory to contribute to this possible miscarriage of justice would be a huge black eye for the division and the department.”
Eventually, after the internal debate, the department settled on the idea of listing the origin as unknown in situations where no plant matter was visible and the origin couldn’t proven.
That has essentially left the decision up to prosecutors to draw their own conclusions, according to lawyers.
“The new reporting procedures implemented in 2013 ensure that MSP-FSP is only reporting what it can scientifically prove,” Banner said in a statement.
According to a statement from Michael WENDLING, president of PAAM and St. Clair County’s prosecutor, PAAM has already met with staff from the Senate Judiciary Committee to request changes to a medical marijuana bill in the Legislature.
“The change requested by PAAM would decrease the penalty for synthetic marijuana to equal that for plant marijuana,” the statement said. “This request was made prior to recent press coverage on this issue.”
That change would likely settle the dispute.
Wendling also stated that PAAM didn’t direct MSP to change its policy to increase potential charges, as some have alleged.
On why Stecker was emailing MSP workers about the issue in the first place, Wendling said Stecker, a marijuana expert, was simply responding to requests about his opinion.
“It is common practice to consult with prosecuting attorneys to ensure compliance with state law,” Banner said.
Stecker did email from what was apparently an Attorney General (AG)-based email address, according to the documents. But according to the AG’s office, he’s never worked there.
Questions about why he had the email address were referred by the AG’s office to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.
Komorn himself has questioned why Stecker advised MSP on the subject.
“I’m a lawyer. He’s lawyer. I want to talk to the lab. I want to tell them how I want the results reported,” Komorn said.
As the debate continues, other prosecutors have taken note of what’s happening with the ongoing Lorincz case.
Chris BECKER, chief assistant prosecutor in Kent County, said his county has decided to treat oil cases where there is no plant material visible as plant marijuana, not synthetic.
Counties that see it differently aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong, Becker said.
“There’s different ways to interpret it,” he said. “Different counties can interpret it differently.”
As for the allegation that PAAM was working with MSP to change the policy, Becker said nothing could be further from the truth.
“The state lab is its own entity,” he said. “There is no grand conspiracy.”